NEW DELHI: Prospects of the Lokpal bill may have brightened, with government opening serious negotiations with the opposition and displaying a readiness to drop the contentious Lokayukta provision objected to by most parties.
The government's preparedness to get rid of the prescriptive Lokayukta clause that dictated the nature of the state-level anti-corruption ombudsman along with changes in the appointment and removal procedures for Lokpal and clearer provisions on superintendence of CBI may make the bill more palatable.
Despite encouraging responses, government sources were cautious as they said parties suggested numerous amendments and consultations would take longer. While BJP and CPM leaders were spoken to on Thursday, more discussions will follow on Friday as the government looks to pass the legislation before the budget session concludes on May 22.
Fresh talks between government and Opposition reflects a keenness - with the Congress leadership's nudge - that the legislation be passed. While the Centre hopes to remove the perception that it was reluctant to legislate Lokpal, the Opposition feels the government's eagerness could make it amenable to amendments it has proposed.
The Centre seems ready to drop the Lokayukta provision from Lokpal bill, a major demand from the opposition that labeled it an infringement of the states' jurisdiction. Indications to this effect were given in the discussions that ministers Kapil Sibal, V Narayansamy, Salman Khurshid and Pawan Bansal had with Opposition parties. The ministers met leader of opposition in Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley and CPM leader Sitaram Yechury, sources said.
A wide coalition of opposition parties - comprising BJP, Left and other regional parties, including Congress allies Trinamool and DMK - had demanded that the chapter on Lokayukta that set out the composition of the state-level ombudsman be dropped altogether. The demand was repeated that the Centre should have no role in the appointment of Lokayuktas.
The Opposition is insisting that Lokpal should supervise the investigation of cases it refers to CBI. Also, NGOs which receive government aid should be within the purview of Lokpal. The Left has demanded that private sector too be put under the anti-graft ombudsman.
Parties have also called for making more democratic the appointment and removal of Lokpal, a point that the Centre appeared inclined to consider. The opposition sought Parliament be given a say in the removal of Lokpal.
Sources said the government would aim to get the bill through the upper House where it was pending after being cleared by the lower House in December. A senior minister said it may not be possible to bring the Bill back to Lok Sabha.
The lower house would have to assent the legislation again since the amendments in upper house would alter the original draft cleared by the former. It would also require Cabinet clearance but that can be done post-facto.
While Congress has all along claimed that Lokpal had no effect on the political situation, the recent defeats in the state it was expected to win like in Punjab and the slender win in Uttarakhand has alerted the party to the need to close the issue once and for all.
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